(clj 2) Setting up Vim for Clojure

As mentioned in my previous post I've decided to use Vim as my Clojure editor. That leaves me with three things to do: getting reacquainted with Vim, updating my Vim config in the .vimrc file, and installing both general and Clojure-specific Vim plugins.

Getting reacquainted with Vim

Ever since I learned Vim basics a long time ago I have been using it once in a while to make small edits to a config file or a commit message, but not for anything more complicated than that. So that's the first thing I wanted to address: refresh my basics and make sure I know where to find more information when I need it.


I figured that a good way to get back into Vim was the Vimtutor. It's a 30-minute interactive tutorial where you edit a file with instructions with vim. I kept notes of what it covers, which you can find here. Vim's help also includes a quickref, an "Overview of the most common commands you will use", which is intimidatingly long considering that description. As a reference to look things up in, it should be useful, though.

Going through the Vimtutor to refresh my Vim felt good. Something about Vim keybindings just feels right to me. However, me liking Vim dies not mean that I automatically remember all the keybindings and commands and capabilities of Vim. So I decided that if I wanted this project of both learning Vim and Clojure to work, I should make a Clojure-Vim cheatsheet to help me. The plan is to keep updating this sheet as I do more with Vim and Clojure.

Using Vim's :help command

Another great resource are Vim's help files, which can be found online and by typing :help<Enter> or <F1> in Vim itself. You can also see help on specific topics by doing :help {topic}<Enter>, or do :help {topic}<ctrl+d> to see entries matching what you have typed so far.

When you do that, you'll notice that Vim will open the relevant help file in a separate window,, i.e. the vim screen is now split in half. (Vim also has tabs, with tabs containing one or multiple windows.) So that makes right now the right time to learn some basic Vim window management:

  • close the active window with :q (closes Vim if that leaves you with 0 active windows)
  • make the active window take up all vertical space with ctrl+w _ or all horizontal space with ctrl+w |
  • split equally again with ctrl+w =
  • move to the next window with ctrl+w w
  • move to the window in a specific direction with ctrl+w {direction}, with direction being one of h j k l
  • snap the window to a side with ctrl+w shift+{direction}, with direction again being one of h j k l

With basic window management out of the way, there are also a few keybindings to learn to help with text navigation:

  • to look up whatever word is under the cursor hit ctrl+] (works for topics and with section titles)
  • to jump back to where you were use ctrl+o
  • to jump forward again use ctrl+i

That should be enough to make Vim's help files a useful resource. Or at least I hope it is, because the above is the result of me looking up the things I expect to need to be able to use Vim's help files.

Updating my Vim configuration

First of all a warning: you can spend hours upon hours looking into Vim's configuration settings, plugins, and color schemes - without using Vim to write a single line of... let's say Clojure. If you want to know how deep that rabbit hole goes, I recommend reading this blog post by Karolis Koncevičius, where he shares "Lessons learned during my 5 year adventure in fiddling with Vim configuration files".

So after spending a few hours exploring Vim settings and plugins, I decided to keep my configuration and especially my plugins as limited and simple as possible - despite all the promises of shiny new toys I could add. That way I might actually get around again to playing with Clojure and writing a blog post about that sometime soon.

The .vimrc file

Vim configuration happens via a file in the user's home directory, .vimrc. You can find mine here. I might have updated it since writing this though, so if you want to see the current version, go here.

There are plenty of good resources on what to put in your .vimrc-file. Here are three I took inspiration from:

That should be more than enough to get you going. As part of this blog post, I do want to highlight a few settings that you might not think of changing while using Vim. First, there's set wildmenu, which will display the tab completion of Vim's command line as a menu instead of as one completion at a time. Secondly, set scrolloff=5 means Vim will always try to display 5 lines above and below the cursor and set display+=lastline will try to show as much as possible of the last line in the window instead of a column of "@". Finally, I disabled backup and swap files with set nobackup, set nowritebackup, and set noswapfile for multiple reasons. It saves writes to my SSD, for version control I use GitHub, and it allows me to set updatetime=300 so that the GitGutter plugin feels more responsive.

Vim plugins

The main question for Vim plugins is: which Vim plugin do you use to manage your Vim plugins? A few years ago when looking into Vim as Python editor, I decided to go with vim-plug. I can't remember why, but it could be because it says it's a "minimalist Vim plugin manager". Two popular alternatives are Vundle and Pathogen. Since Vim 8 there's also native support for packages.

General plugins

I ended up installing the following general plugins:

  • GitGutter to show git diff markers in the sign column and see the diff
  • indentLine to display indentation levels
  • Lightline to configure the statusline
  • NerdTree to have a tree explorer
  • vim-commentary to easily (un)comment lines
  • vim-fugitive to show the current branch in the statusline (it can do lots more than that)
  • vim-plug to manage installing and removing plugins as mentioned above

Of course all of these come with their own commands. The ones I expect to use are in my Clojure-Vim cheatsheet.

Clojure plugins

For Clojure-specific plugins I mostly followed Keith Smiley's advice and went with these:

I have barely used these plugins - if at all, actually, in the case if vim-sexp -, so my cheatsheet won't have much on these yet.

As far as I know there are two alternatives to vim-fireplace: vim-iced and conjure, with the latter only actively supporting Neovim. I am curious about those, but am going to postpone exploring them until I have some experience with vim-fireplace - and with Clojure itself.

Color schemes

The color scheme I enabled last time I was looking into Vim is Diki Ananta's minimalist. I still like it, so that saved me the time of looking for a good color scheme. I would like to have a good light color scheme as well, though...

And with all of that done, I think I'm ready to return to the third chapter of Clojure for the Brave and True.